Nutrition In Pregnancy

A balanced diet is a basic part of good health at all times in your life. During pregnancy, your diet is even more important. The foods you eat are the main source of nutrients for your baby.

Before You Become Pregnant
The best time to begin eating a healthy diet is before you become pregnant. This will help you and your baby start out with the nutrients you both need.

Basic Nutrients
Every diet should include proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and fat. nutrients, vitamins, and minerals. During pregnancy, the recommended intake increases for many nutrients.

Key Nutrients for You and Your Baby During Pregnancy


Why You and Your Baby Need It

Best Sources

Calcium (1,000 milligrams)

Helps build strong bones and teeth.

Milk, cheese, yogurt, sardines

Iron (27 milligrams)

Helps red blood cells deliver oxygen to your baby.

Lean red meat, dried beans and peas, iron-fortified cereals, prune juice

Vitamin A (770 micrograms)

Forms healthy skin and helps eyesight. Helps with bone growth.

Carrots; dark, leafy greens; sweet potatoes

Vitamin C (85 milligrams)

Promotes healthy gums, teeth, and bones. Helps your body absorb iron.

Citrus fruit, broccoli, tomatoes, strawberries

Vitamin D (200 international units; some experts recommend 400 international units during pregnancy)

Helps build your baby’s bones and teeth.

Sunlight exposure; vitamin D fortified milk; fatty fish such as salmon

Vitamin B6 (1.9 milligrams)

Helps form red blood cells. Helps body use protein, fat, and carbohydrates.

Beef, liver, pork, ham; whole-grain cereals; bananas

Vitamin B12 (2.6 micrograms)

Maintains nervous system. Needed to form red blood cells.

Liver, meat, fish, poultry, milk (found only in animal foods—vegetarians who do not eat any animal foods should take a supplement)

Folate (600 micrograms)

Needed to produce blood and protein. Helps some enzymes function.

Green, leafy vegetables; liver; orange juice; legumes and nuts

Extra Nutrients
Pregnant women need extra iron and folic acid, and these are usually prescribed in pill form as supplements. Women should take 400 micrograms of folic acid daily (which is found in all prenantal vitamins), in addition to a well balanced diet, for at least 1 month before pregnancy and during the first 3 months of pregnancy. This can help prevent neural tube defects, which affect the spine and skull of the fetus.

The iron in red blood cells helps carry oxygen to your organs, tissues, and baby. Women need more iron in their diets during pregnancy to support the growth of the baby and to produce extra blood. The recommended daily amount of iron you should consume while pregnant is 27 milligrams, which can be found in most prenatal vitamin supplements. Women who do not have enough iron stored in their bodies before pregnancy may develop anemia. Some women may need extra iron in the form of an iron supplement. Taking an iron supplement on an empty stomach or with a source of vitamin C (such as a glass of fruit juice) helps the body absorb iron better.

Weight Gain
When you are pregnant, you need to eat more to help the growth and development of your baby. During at least the last 6 months of pregnancy, you need to eat or drink about 300 calories more a day than you did before you were pregnant.

How much weight you gain during pregnancy depends on your weight before pregnancy. A healthy gain for most women is between 25 and 35 pounds. If you are overweight, you should gain less, but some weight gain is normal. If you are underweight, you should gain more.

Special Concerns

Moderate caffeine intake (one cup of coffee a day) does not appear to lead to miscarriage or preterm birth. It is not clear whether caffeine increases the risk of having a low birth weight baby.

It may be a good idea to limit your caffeine intake during pregnancy for other reasons. Excess caffeine can interfere with sleep and contribute to nausea and light-headedness. It also can increase urination and lead to dehydration.

Vegetarian Diets
If you are a vegetarian, you can continue your diet during your pregnancy. However, you will need to plan your meals with care to ensure you get the nutrients you and your baby need. Be sure you are getting enough protein. You will probably need to take supplements, especially iron, vitamin B12, and vitamin D.

Fish and shellfish are good sources of protein, omega-3 fatty acids, and other nutrients. However, pregnant women should not eat certain kinds of fish because they contain high levels of a form of mercury that can be harmful to the developing fetus.

You should avoid eating shark, swordfish, king mackerel, or tilefish during pregnancy. These large fish contain high levels of mercury. Common types of fish that are low in mercury are shrimp, canned light tuna (not albacore, which has a higher mercury content), salmon, pollock, and catfish. You can safely eat up to 12 ounces (about two meals) of these fish per week while you are pregnant. If you want to include albacore tuna as part of your two fish meals one week, limit your intake of albacore tuna to no more than 6 ounces for that week.

Listeriosis is an illness caused by bacteria that can occur in unpasteurized milk and soft cheese and prepared and uncooked meats, poultry, and shellfish. It can be particularly harmful to pregnant women and their babies.

To prevent listeriosis, wash all fresh fruits and vegetables before using them. While you are pregnant, do not eat the following foods:

  1. Unpasteurized milk or soft cheeses (e.g. brie and gouda) .
  2. Raw or undercooked meat (including deli meats), poultry, or shellfish.
  3. Prepared meats unless they are heated until steaming hot.

During pregnancy, some women feel strong urges to eat nonfood items such as clay, ice, laundry starch, or cornstarch. This condition is called pica. Pica can be harmful to your pregnancy. It can affect your intake of nutrients and can lead to constipation and anemia. Talk with your health care provider if you have any of these urges.

Eating right during your pregnancy is one of the best things you can do for yourself and your baby. Finding a balance between getting enough nutrients while maintaining a healthy weight is important for you and your baby’s future health.

Copyright © August 2010 The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists